Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cooking with Cedar

As I sat nestled in my cubicle listening to the relentless rain pummel the window panes of the tribal center, I thought about the morale day the hubby and all of his crony C-130 Chiefs were participating in at the Old's River.  The rain was really coming down that day, but the fishing trip went on as planned.  As I've mentioned before, if you don't go out when it's misty or rainy out in Kodiak - you'll never leave the house.

I was jealous of the fishing plans the night before, because I've wanted to go salmon fishing all summer long and haven't harassed anyone enough to take me.  The harassment of someone who actually knows what they're doing is completely necessary.  Because I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing in the salmon fishing department.  No clue whatsoever.  Believe me, they'll be a future post about my first timer salmon fishing day.  Hopefully with a catch!

Doesn't look very big here
My fishing envy of the hubby that day ended as I was looking out the window at the rain - which was then coming down sideways. I was pretty content in my dry, fluorescent-lighted surroundings, despite the fact that I was at work.  What's the lame saying you see on redneck t-shirts?  "Even a bad day fishing is better than a good day working."  Well, lucky for the hubby, outside of the weather - it wasn't a bad day fishing. In fact, it was a pretty good day fishing.

When I saw the picture he sent me of his catch, all I could envision was tales of cedar planked salmon goodness for dinner.  The funny thing was that the first picture he sent didn't have any context to see how big the fish was that he caught.  So, it just kind of looked like any old fish.  But then...he sent another one of the salmon in the cooler in the kitchen and holy hell!  Context!  The thing was huge!  You've got to love the Cheety curiosity, too.

Boom - Context!  That's a damn big fish!

One little charcoal chimney starter grilling tip we've picked up over the years - I think courtesy of Cook's Illustrated, is to use an empty paper towel roll when lighting the grill.  Just position the paper towel roll in the center of the chimney starter and pile the charcoal all around it.

The cylinder helps to draw oxygen down to the bottom of the chimney starter,  and gets the flame going pretty well. We have a running collection of empty paper towel rolls that we use every time we break out the grill. Give it a try if you have a Weber-type charcoal grill and chimney starter - I bet you'll notice a difference in how quickly your grill gets toasty.

It went without saying that our first homemade salmon dinner would be grilled on a cedar plank.  It's the pinnacle of salmon preparation, in my humble, still new to the salmon game opinion.  And the hubby is a complete convert to the whole cedar plank method.   He raved about it for days afterwards. It really adds a nice flavor to the fish, and the scents that come off the wood are so woodsy and diverse.  It ranges from that earthy cedar scent, to vanilla, to little bits cinnamon and pine.  And all those flavors are transferred to the salmon in a subtle melding of seasoning.  The garlic-molasses-soy type glaze he whipped up to baste on the fish while it cooked wasn't too shabby either.

Anytime you can eat fish that was swimming that morning is going to equal a fantastic meal.  Salmon the way it's supposed to taste!  Not that fishy, sad excuse for salmon I tried over and over and OVER and never liked before we moved here.  That's because I didn't know it then, but I wasn't experiencing salmon the way it's supposed to taste.  And I'll fully admit to transforming into a salmon snob.  Because really, once you have the best of something - food wise - it's hard to forget.  And even harder to go back to a bad version of it. And hell, if I can actually catch it myself?  Yes and yes.

So we rounded out our dinner that night with a salad and some leftover stuck pot rice, which is another excellent recipe we discovered over at the smitten kitchen.  Definitely recommend giving that one a try.  And its vegetarian, for those of you who are into that kind of thing.  I gotta say, our first salmon procured all legit-Alaskan style straight from the river was top notch.  I can count it in the best salmon I've ever had category.  Here's the cedar planked salmon glamor shot:

And the best part?  That mother of a fish gives us at least 4-5 meals to look forward to thanks to the vacuum sealer and the garage freezer.  Sweet.

Ta-ta for now.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


My legs are some hybrid version of silly puddy and play dough as I sit writing this.  BUT.
I did it.  I finally conquered Barometer Mountain!  What a mother of a hike.  Here's some perspective:

This is about a quarter of the way up

I think I read somewhere that Barometer is Kodiak's 3rd highest peak, but don't quote me on that one.  Regardless - this was hands down the most difficult hike I've undertaken since moving up to the Great White North.  Most difficult hike I've ever undertaken, actually.  Meanwhile...this was the hubby's fourth time hiking it.  Fourth!  Just further proof that he's on a different fitness plane than I am.  With his triathlons and marathons and grand goal of doing the Iron Man at some point in his life.  Different fitness plane!  But, I love that we can do things like this together.

You've gotta love the sign at the trail head.  It's all dire and serious with its talk of 60 degree climbing angles, fatality warnings, and strong recommendations regarding bear deterrents.  So, it's a high level climb.  Understood.

Although, the two crucifix memorials we passed on our way up were ominous.  My thought process as we hiked past the memorials was, yes people have died hiking this, but don't let that rattle you. - Keep on keepin' on!  The major difference between the unfortunate fatalities and us is that they hiked it in winter.  This mountain is a very different animal to even consider hiking in the winter.  I certainly wouldn't.  I'm not particularly interested in hiking anything that requires ice cleats or axes to do it.  So I guess all my aspirations to be a Patagonia catalog trail model are hereby dashed.

My short lived hiking poles, Bobby and the Mountain Dog
The Cheet assumed his usual mountain dog persona on our hike, and I have to say it's seriously impressive to watch him maneuver his way up.  He's so sure footed, and your best bet is to follow his route because he always finds the best way up. 

I used my climbing poles for the first time on this hike, but I couldn't decide whether they were helpful or just cumbersome.  Probably a combination of both.  It didn't matter though, because the poles were no match for Barometer.  Hubby was using them on the way down and one of the poles bent right in half. So, first and last time with that accessory!  I don't think I'll miss them that much.

I was definitely chanting my mantra on our way up. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  The last little scramble before the top seemed never ending and I kept asking myself how the hell are we still not at the top yet?  

I decided that the best motivator would be knowing that an icy cold beer in a frosty mug would greet me at the top. I'll tell you what though, when I did finally get to the top I let out one hell of a woooooo.  Feeling accomplished doesn't begin to cover it.  As I might have mentioned, it's a mother of a climb, and I've wanted to do it for as long as we've been here.  But honestly, the reality of the hike still wasn't as bad as I made it out to be in my mind.  I've found that if I'm dreading something or building an event up in my mind to monumental proportions, the anticipation usually turns out worse than the actual experience, it seems.

At the top!  And high enough to be in the clouds

Gorgeous, sunny day Kodiak.  The best kind of Kodiak.

Pug Dog needed a rest!

Once we sat down to rest and eat our pb&j lunches at the top, the clouds started rolling in - but it didn't last long, so we were able to get some nice pictures of the spectacular view from up there.  2,500 foot elevation, to be exact. When all was said and done, according to the hubby's fancy hiking app - we hiked about 4.5 miles in about 4 hours, and burned close to 2,000 calories.  Niiiice.

A little perspective for the way down

Yet another memorable experience in Kodiak.  I'll tell that to my legs as I hobble around tomorrow! 

Ta-ta for now.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

My Kinda House

Mission Beach

We managed to get another kayak trip in a few weeks ago, when the rainy weekends gave us a welcome break with some sunshine and clear skies.  As we paddled along the beach and through the channel, we admired the diversity as we casually floated by all the different types of houses that dotted the shore line.  There's no shortage of variety in the homes along the waterway of Woody Island Channel.  Tiny little cottages, dilapidated trailers, modest lodges, and magnificent cabins all drifted by us as we rowed our way toward Near Island from our launching point at Mission Beach.

Behold...the Turd!  :)
It was our second kayaking trip together since we picked up a used kayak for me a few months ago.  I say kayak, but the running joke is that it's a plastic bathtub.  Hubby's kayak is all sleek, slim and even has a damn rudder!

And then there I am bumbling along in my extra-stable, super-wide blue plastic bathtub that I've come to lovingly call the turd.  Sure it floats, and it's relatively easy to manuever, but it's not going to win any awards in the style department.  That being said, kayaking around Kodiak - regardless of what kind of boat you happen to be in - is pretty remarkable.
And here we have Mr. Sleek

On this trip out I was in total awe of the huge expanse of the underwater world we were just bobbing along the top of.  The water was so crystal clear that we could see all the way to the bottom where the abundance of sea grass, alien looking fields of kelp and other-worldly jellyfish dominated the whole scene.   I tried to get some pictures of the jellyfish - yet another National Geographic moment up here - but I just couldn't capture them.

We saw some of the usual suspects on our jaunt - Bald and Golden Eagles, and a sizable sea lion who swam close enough to our boats to make me hyper aware of where he was and exactly what he was up to.  They're seriously enormous.  As the hubby says, "They don't call them sea kittens!"  He's damn right about that one.  One could easily tip you over if it was so inclined. They do outweigh us by about 1,000 pounds.

One of the entertaining parts of our day was admiring some of the waterfront homes along the route we took.  Wow!  What a stunning view those privileged folks have out their windows.  I saw one cabin high up on a ridge with giant floor to ceiling windows, and a beautiful telescope sitting on a tripod at the window.  Just waiting for the spectacular night skies to emerge.  I bet it's something to see - right from your own living room.  My pick of all the huge, somewhat over the top homes along the way was this head turner:

One of my favorite houses we saw

I just love the combination of the warm wood tones, the stone foundation, and the tall windows.  The stairs down to the water with a kayak within easy reach, the shaded upper patio area with the hot tub that you can't really make out's just such a spacious, beautiful location with a lovely view of the water.  My kinda house! In some sort of alternative reality where we have waterfront property, anyway.  It was fun to marvel at, though.

I'm betting that winter kayaking around the island will be just as beautiful. Might need to invest in a dry suit before I tackle that.  The Turd is stable, but I wouldn't want to take any chances.  Winter water in Kodiak?  Brr!

Ta-ta for now.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Heitman Mountain

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. That's what I tell myself when we're in the midst of a particularly hairy incline on the trail of one of our mountain hikes. 

Or when the gradual, ever-upward path hasn't given me a break in the relentless ascent department.  As I plod along at my slower than slow pace, I just have to keep reminding myself this is good for me.

Because it is.  Good to get outside in the sunshine.  Good to get your body moving and get some exercise.  Good to get the pup out and having fun.  But God damn if it's not a challenge getting to the top every time! 

Which good for me.  And truth be told?  I love it.  Even when I'm inevitably questioning my decision to climb whatever hellacious summit we've committed to for that day...I still love it.

Last weekend we hiked part of Heitman Mountain.  A mere 2,241 ft mountain at it's highest peak, but we only climbed to the first peak - which isn't quite as tall.  High enough, though!

As we were heading out to the trail head, we saw our first Kodiak bears fishing off the side of the road.  It only took a year! 

They were splashing around and putting on a good show for all the folks who had stopped and parked their cars to get out and gawk. It was a cool start to our day.

Our first Kodiak Bear sighting - Three big muthahs!

There were some boggy, mucky parts on the way up, so I had my share of stepping ankle deep into mud. At one point, Cheety accidentally face planted in a pretty sizable mud pit & managed to completely immerse himself in muddy goodness from neck to feet.

We had our share of mud!

You should have seen him struggling to free himself from the muck!  Just imagine a fantastic shloop sound as he pulled himself out & you'll get the right visual.  It was filthy & I'm 90% sure it was the highlight of his day.  Well, it was either the mud, or the incessant rolling in questionable things.  It was a good Pugbull day.

What's unique about the Heitman hike is that the trail circles around a lake, so as you're trekking through the dense, high grasses and alder, you'll see the lake on one side and the bays on the other.

Heitman Lake

The lake is about a mile and a half into the hike, and the trail basically hugs the perimeter of the lake.   As with every hike we've done, it's a pretty commanding view of Kodiak once you get up to the top.  This is only about the halfway point:

That's Base Kodiak and the airport behind me

And I have to share this picture of the men because I'm in love with it:

Those are some happy faces

Mountain Dog

One of my goals for September is to finally conquer one of the highest mountains on Kodiak.  The intimidating Barometer Mountain, which sits outside my bedroom window.  Mocking me.

Barometer Mountain

It's about a 2,500 ft elevation gain, and it's my white whale.  Alright, that's a little much - I'm not obsessed, but I definitely want to be able to look at that bad boy and say I've hiked it.  

I fully expect to be chanting my mantra the entire time when we finally tackle it.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other...

Ta-ta for now.

2,241 ft
2,241 ft

Monday, September 1, 2014

Acorn Squash...It's What's for Dinner

Pseudo-artsy mozzarella cheese shot, anyone?
Man!  I'm just an empty tank writing-wise these days.  It's a pervasive I've got nothing to say malaise lately.  I guess it doesn't help that we haven't had any notable outings over the last few weekends.  And I think we kind of slowed down a little after our Italian escapades and month 'o travel in July.

Plus, it's been rainy for the last few weekends, so we haven't really been hitting the trails or getting out as much.  Perhaps a glimpse into the looming and inevitable winter hibernation?

How about this love?

So I settled on sharing a recipe we made this week, which we've made a few times before and is seriously delicious.  It's acorn squash stuffed with zucchini, apples & spicy sausage.  I got the recipe from a website called, but when I searched their archive I couldn't find it, so I'll just list it at the end of my post if anyone's interested in giving it a shot.

First of all, the stuffing is all kinds of harvesty goodness.  You basically dice up the apples, zucchini, onions and sausage & saute it all together before stuffing it into the halved acorn squash.  With mozzarella layered through the stuffing. Of course.

It's a pretty easy prep. - After cutting the squash in half and scooping out all the seeds, just flip them upside down and bake them in a pan with a little bit of water in the bottom.

It's a good idea to slice a little off the bottom of each squash half so they sit flat on your plate when you're ready to serve it.  I also recommend grating the mozzarella cheese yourself.  It tastes much fresher & better than the bagged pre-shredded kind.  (That goes for any dish that calls for shredded cheese in my book. Especially Parmigiano-Reggiano.)

The hubby thinks the recipe could be even better if we roast the squash instead of doing the steam method the recipe calls for.  It's funny, I'm more of a stick to the recipe kind of gal, and he's always going free-style with ingredients and methods. - Usually improving upon whatever the recipe called for to begin with.

But the funny part is he can never remember what he changes or which ingredients he tweaked while in the midst of free-styling - and doesn't write anything down - so he's rarely able to re-create a meal exactly the same way.  Kind of a bummer, especially when whatever he does turns out delicious!  I know, it's a rough problem to have.

This is kind of sad, but we've regressed back to eating dinner sitting on the floor in the living room in front of the coffee table.  We sort of drifted away from eating at the kitchen table, which not coincidentally isn't within view of the TV.  What can I say?  We like to watch the idiot box while we eat.  Family dinner plus Seinfeld repeats, usually.  And we always have a Pugbull peering over our shoulders at whatever our meal is each night...hoping for a nibble of whatever we've got going on!  Which he never gets, of course.  But he's always hopeful.

Cheety is so not a fan of the camera.  Whenever I take it out, he looks away or gives me the look you see here.
The "This again? Fiiiiiiiine" attitude. Unless I'm bribing him with treats, of course. Then he's Mr. Dog Model.

If anyone wants to try this one, the recipe is below.  It's a super easy, tasty fall dish.  Here's my glamor shot of our acorn squash stuffed with zucchini, apples, and sausage before I dug in.  Hope you like it if you decide to give it a go.  And I won't judge you if you eat it in front of the TV. 

Ta-ta for now.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Sausage, Zucchini & Apples
1 acorn squash cut in half with seeds removed
1 medium apple, diced (Honey Crisp work really well)
1/2 a zucchini, diced
1/2 a small onion, diced
2 spicy sausage links with the casings removed
1/4 cup mozzarella, shredded
kosher salt, to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place squash halves cut side down on a baking sheet with approximately 1 inch of water on the sheet.  Bake for about 30 minutes. While the squash is cooking, saute the onion, apples, zucchini, and sausage in a skillet.  Remove squash and flip over.  The flesh should be tender.  Stuff each half with the sausage mixture, layering with the mozzarella cheese.  Return squash to the oven and bake for another 25 minutes.  Serve immediately.